Judge orders Kraft to appear in court later in month
A Florida judge Wednesday ordered New England Patriots owner Robert Kraft to appear in court later this month in the Orchids of Asia Day Spa case.
Judge Leonard Hanser didn’t immediately issue a ruling on whether prosecutors would be barred from showing a jury the surveillance video taken in the day spa of Kraft.
However, he did order Kraft to appear May 21 at a hearing on whether both sides are ready for trial, according to court documents.
The police detective who oversaw surveillance cameras inside the Jupiter, Fla., day spa where Kraft allegedly paid for sex testified Wednesday that police decided which customer to focus on based on what happened once they entered a massage room.
“If a guy walked in and kept his underwear on, then non-criminal activity had occurred,’’ Detective Andrew Sharp told Kraft defense attorney Alex Spiro in court. “If they got completely naked, I would say they did not receive a legitimate massage.”
Sharp testified for a third day in a courtroom in Palm Beach County, where Kraft’s legal team is working to convince Hanser that the probe and the warrant for installing the cameras were riddled with legal mistakess.
The motion, if successful, would prevent prosecutors from showing a jury the video taken by the cameras of Kraft.
Kraft, 77, faces two misdemeanor counts of soliciting prostitution at the Orchids of Asia Day Spa, on Jan. 19 and Jan. 20. Kraft has denied engaging in criminal activity, pleaded not guilty, and requested a jury trial.
Prosecutors initially linked the case to human trafficking after Kraft and the other men were charged but have since said they’re not alleging human trafficking as part of the Orchids probe.
Through his lawyers, Kraft has so far been successful in preventing the public release of the surveillance video under Florida’s expansive public records laws. Hanser has ordered the Kraft videos sealed while the criminal case is pending.
A second judge has also ordered the videos sealed in a pending prosecution of the owner, Hua Zhang, and the manager of the day spa, Lei Wang. Both women have pleaded not guilty to multiple charges, including deriving support from prostitution.
Over three days of court hearings, Kraft’s lawyers have linked the investigation by the Jupiter police to a parallel but separate investigation by the sheriff’s department in neighboring Martin County. Both investigations obtained a “sneak and peek” search warrant that let police secretly install cameras and record activity in massage rooms.
In a ruling that Kraft’s team brought to Hanser’s attention, a Martin County judge ruled that video evidence would not be admissible in the cases of an estimated 100 men arrested for soliciting prostitution following a monthslong investigation there.
During Wednesday’s hearing, Jupiter Police Officer Scott Kimbark described pulling over a Bentley that Kraft was riding in on Jan. 19 after he had visited the spa and allegedly paid for sex.
Kraft told Kimbark that he was the owner of the New England Patriots and asked if he was a fan of the Miami Dolphins, the officer testified. In court papers, prosecutors said Kraft also displayed one of his Super Bowl rings, but the officer was prevented from providing more details of the interaction.
During a second round of questioning later in the day, defense attorney Spiro asked Kimbark if he recalled saying over his radio, before making a traffic stop of another suspect about 85 minutes before Kraft was stopped, if he did not have probable cause, “it don’t matter. I’ll make some [expletive] up.”
Kimbark told Spiro he had no recollection of that statement, even if it looks like “a home run on your side” and “makes me look very terrible.” Kimbark added, “I apologize if I did say that.”
Also Wednesday, Jupiter Police Officer Michael Nicholson testified that the man who drove Kraft to the spa on Jan. 19 in a Bentley, identified previously in court papers as Kraft’s friend Peter Bernon, waited outside in the parking lot.
Bernon wore a blazer and was talking on his phone and pacing around, said Nicholson, who was monitoring the parking lot at the time. Bernon was also leaning against the Bentley, leading Nicholson to conclude the vehicle belonged to him.
“People aren’t going to lean against [a Bentley] if it’s not theirs,” Nicholson said.
On Tuesday, Karen Herzog, the Florida state health inspector who inspected the day spa, testified she had inspected the spa at the request of police last fall. She initially entered “N/A” for “not applicable” on a state form in response to a question about whether there were signs anyone was living at the spa.
But at the end of January 2019, days after Jupiter police got a warrant to secretly equip the spa with cameras, Herzog changed her entry from N/A to the equal sign followed by D, meaning “deficiency” because there were signs of people living there, she testified Tuesday.
On the stand Tuesday, Herzog testified that she initially entered “N/A” during her November report because she feared for her safety inside the business, which was populated at the time by three licensed female massage therapists, including the manager.
“I was afraid that if [the manager] saw the ‘yes’ [for the domicile question] it would create . . . ” Herzog testified, momentarily pausing on the stand.
“Drama?” Kraft attorney William Burck asked.
“I was concerned for my safety,” Herzog said, even though Jupiter police had arranged to be outside during the inspection. Herzog said Tuesday that while that had been the plan, she didn’t see police outside as she entered the spa.
Herzog said her management asked her to make the change to her report.
Burck questioned Herzog for more than 90 minutes before a brief recess was called. Prosecutors continued questioning Herzog after the break.
When Herzog visited the spa last November, she noted that beds were visible in two rooms, as well as a fully stocked refrigerator and other items, according to legal filings and her testimony Tuesday.